Sunken Ship Excavation Is Dream Come True for Treasure Hunters

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Treasure hunters with dreams of gold have spent this year watching a fairy tale unfold before their eyes.

In 1987, the shipwreck of SS Central America was discovered 160 miles off the coast of South Carolina. What was so special about this wreck? The ship — a wooden-hulled, copper-plated, steam-powered sidewheeler — was carrying over 30,000 pounds of gold when it sank in a hurricane in 1857, also sending 425 crewmembers and passengers to their deaths.

Only 5% of the site was excavated in the ’80s, when over $40 million worth of gold was recovered.

Now, deep-sea exploration company Odyssey Marine Exploration has revealed that a new excavation of the site, which began in mid-April 2014, has yielded 45 gold bars and more than 15,500 gold and silver coins.

The underwater archaeology project has also turned up gold jewelry, buckles and broaches. Non-gold artifacts sure to please 19th-century history aficionados include cotton pants, luggage, paper packages, a pipe bowl, several daguerreotypes and chewing tobacco still safely wrapped in its original package.

The Modern Market

SS Central America carried its precious cargo between San Francisco and New York in the days of the California Gold Rush, which began after James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma, California, in 1948.

By the next year, “forty-niners” poured into the region (not yet a state) from all over the world hoping to strike it rich, though of course many never did.

But lest one label this appetite for gold na├»ve or primitive, it’s important to note that the modern desire to buy and sell gold is as strong as ever.

In the U.S., investors often buy gold and silver coins to hedge against the dollar in times of financial insecurity. Though a stronger dollar and U.S. economy growth have sent gold prices tumbling in the past year, it is widely expected that prices will rise again at some point.

Laypeople sell gold jewelry that’s dated or broken (or sometimes, sell gold coins without collectors’ values) for melt-down purposes.

Commercial gold buyers typically have industry connections that allow them to have the gold melted down at lower costs than a consumer would be able to secure, which allows both the buyer and the seller to profit from previously worthless items.

What do you think of this real-life treasure hunt? Do you have any tips on whether to buy and sell gold in the present financial climate? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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